RALEIGH, N.C. - The Rangers' power play came alive Thursday in Carolina, but a questionable call with the team on the power play led to a 4-3 loss to the Hurricanes at PNC Arena.
New York scored three power play goals but allowed two against to Sebastian Aho in the third period in their first road loss in six games.
"We group them together," Derek Stepan said of the special teams. "It's a special teams battle. If you don't win the special teams battle, you put yourself in a tough spot to win the hockey game."
The Rangers took a 3-2 lead into the third period but got into penalty trouble midway through the frame. After Nick Holden was called for tripping, Aho fired a slapshot from the point that beat a screened Antti Raanta to tie the game, 3-3, at 9:04.
Coach Alain Vigneault challenged the play for goaltender interference but the goal stood. After the game, he was not pleased with the reason he was given by the official.
"In all the times that I've asked for challenges … this one I'm 100 percent sure on I'm right," Vigneault said. "When we made the call, initially the referee that hadn't made the initial call came to us and said the reason he's saying it's a good goal is because Antti was out of the blue, which I'm looking at. It's not Antti's - his two feet are in the blue paint and there's contact that lifts his mask. Obviously he can't see the shot. Then they told us his feet were in the blue but his head was outside the blue paint, so it was involuntary contact because Antti's face was out of the blue.
"In my opinion," Vigneault added, "it was the wrong call."
After Mika Zibanejad was whistled for slashing, Aho struck again when Jordan Staal found him alone at the circle to put the Hurricanes ahead 4-3 3:24 later, which held up to be the game-winner.
The power plays came early for the Rangers. Kevin Hayes caught a stick from Derek Ryan to the forehead just 5:04 into the game. He left the game for repairs but eventually returned.
Elias Lindholm was then whistled for tripping 45 seconds later to give the Rangers an extended 5-on-3.
Kreider made the most of it when he scored his 26th goal of the season at 7:24. Stepan backhanded a puck from behind the net to the top of the crease, which Kreider got just enough of to catch Cam Ward out of position.
Carolina scored two goals in 29 seconds from Jeff Skinner and Valentin Zykov - his first NHL goal - late in the first period.
Zibanejad would tie the game with his first goal of the night with the man advantage 7:16 into the middle frame. Stepan's blast from the circle was knocked down by Kreider, and Zibanejad was there to poke home the loose puck for his 10th of the season. The goal was his first power play goal as a Ranger.
Video: NYR@CAR: Zibanejad nets his second PPG of the period
Zibanejad's second of the night came with 3:18 left in the second period. Jay McClement's clearing attempt went up the slot and onto Zibanejad's stick. The center received the puck and fired it past Ward to give the Rangers a 3-2 lead.
Aho's pair, though, ended the southern-portion of the Rangers' four-game road trip on a sour note.
"We sat on our heels a little bit," said Stepan, who hit a post in the third period. "It happens. When you're in those moments you have to find a way to grab a hold of it. We didn't really tonight and it cost us."
After the game, the non-call was still difficult for Raanta to digest.
"I felt that I was on top of the crease like I want to be when the puck is at the point," Raanta said. "I tried to be as big as possible there. When the pass is going to Aho, I heard the shot and at the same time my mask is on my nose. It's pretty tough to see the puck after that."